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Global Resort Architecture & Design on Rebound

Design, Tourism, Luxury

New design and master planning projects have become a harbinger of positive momentum for the hospitality industry, reports OBM International (OBMI), one of the world’s leading international architectural and planning firms. The firm, with all nine of its global offices seeing likely growth, is expecting a strong rebound in resort destinations and communities in 2011.

According to OBMI’s CEO Doug Kulig, increased confidence in the market has been integral to the firm securing more projects in January and February of this year than in all of 2010. Kulig notes that OBMI’s recent commissions include master plans for hospitality projects of all sizes, including a 200-room 5-star hotel in the Canary Islands, a 600-hectare mixed-use development in Colombia, and several mixed-use developments in Central America.

“Developers appear to be sticking their heads above the parapet and venturing back into the market, developing plans for hotels and resorts to be opening in the next two to four years, positioned to take full advantage of the recovery,” adds Tim Peck, chairman of OBMI. “Many large-scale projects were shelved during the recession, and need to be re-evaluated. Now that land values have returned to pre-boom prices, developers and investors have to adjust their formula.”

Looking ahead in 2011, Peck and Kulig point to several significant trends shaping the worldwide hospitality sector:

  • Ambitious master plans for large-scale resort developments dating from the mid-2000s being revised to reflect today’s market realities.

  • Older properties in prime resort locations being renovated and repositioned to compete with newer projects.

  • Many hotel and resort operators adding new amenities and experiences that appeal to today’s consumer.

  • Developers and operators rethinking the traditional lobby to make better use of common spaces.

  • Hotel rooms and residential units being creatively downsized without reducing the appeal to guests.

  • Many of the most attractive development and investment opportunities lying in emerging markets, outside the U.S. and Europe.

  • Energy efficiency and other green features being essentials in North America, Europe, and the Caribbean, where conservation and broader sustainability practices are a concern.

“Rather than seeking to maximize returns in a short timeframe, investors are now coming to terms with the new normal and looking at projects that can deliver a reasonable return over a longer period, while still appealing to the consumer,” Kulig adds.

Repositioning of distressed properties

In 2011, an area of opportunity for investors will be purchasing distressed resort properties at a discount and repositioning them to add value. According to Peck, in recent years, distressed properties have not come onto the market as quickly as expected because the banks have been protecting their books – pretend and extend. But as room rates creep back up and lenders see more value, they will move to offload these properties; it is anticipated that more sales will occur this coming year.

Another opportunity is renovations to older properties – what Kulig calls “tired inventory” – that date back to the 1960s and ‘70s. These projects can no longer compete with lifestyle brands and luxury developments, so it is expected that they will change hands. In many cases, these hotels are located in prime locations, making the land a primary asset. A new owner can opportunistically set a new strategic direction for the property.